The aromas wafting from Kerr Chen's holiday buffet will make her meal irresistible.
As always, Chen will serve a feast of foods mirroring traditions that inspire her daily. They will be designed to suit the tastes of those living in Fu Zhou, the coastal China town she comes from.
She'll have fish balls stuffed with meat, lobster prepared with scallions, ginger and peppers, many other seafood dishes and a roasted duck. While Chen, who moved to Charleston from St. Louis three years ago, also served those dishes last year, this year will be different.
Her husband of 10 years, Xiang Chao Chen, was deported in April, Chen says. Their children, Eddie, 8, Romen, 5, and Xi, 4, are with him. She stayed behind alone to operate China Fun, the West Ashley restaurant she's owned for three years.
All across the country, families will sit down to the traditional turkey and give thanks as the pilgrims and Native Americans are believed to have done the first Thanksgiving. But, others will observe the holiday in ways that reflect their ethnic heritages or personal styles.
Something most will do is give thanks for blessings received.
Chen, who thinks her husband will not be allowed to return to the United States for 10 years, will be among those giving thanks.
Why? Chen will give thanks for being able to fulfill her duty as an employer. She's been blessed with the means to close her restaurant on Thanksgiving Day and provide a feast for her staff. Most of them, like her, are from Fuzhou, a town she describes as in the South of China, close to Taiwan, similar to Charleston in diet and climate.
"Their families are not here," Chen says. "They work hard for me all year. I am the owner and I will do the best for them. It makes them feel part of a family. This is the first holiday I will do it by myself."
Sandra Campbell knows how to have a great Thanksgiving without very much planning. Shopping, thawing and baking are not just things that occupy her time in the days leading up to the big meal. All that Campbell and her daughter, Dana, will need is enough gas in the car to drive around the Charleston area.
"We are going to table hop," says Campbell, owner of Tourriffic Tours. It's what she and Dana, her daughter, have done for many of the past 10 years. Friends, who know they are likely to drop in on the holiday, are happy when they arrive, Campbell says.
Over the years, she's learned the specialties served by each hostess and their holiday meal times.
"We start off and decide who we are going to hit first," Campbell says. "Sometimes that's based on distance and other times on what they serve. We don't stay long. We do at least four houses."
Campbell has one friend known for her wonderfully seasoned turkeys, another for her moist fried turkeys and another for her great tasting prime roasts. She also knows whose family members make and contribute their best dishes to the holiday meal, year after year.
Dana Campbell is a vegetarian, Sandra Campbell says. So, she eats whatever fits her diet. Later, she enjoys a vegetarian dish and her mother's baked macaroni and cheese. Then, together, they will have champagne or dessert.
"It's hard to be vegan in Charleston," Dana Campbell says. She's not so strict around the holidays because people can lose friends in Charleston if they don't eat or drink something.
A new tradition
Cooks usually approach preparing the Thanksgiving Day meal with a little trepidation, but not 17-year-old Sarah Berry.
This will be the third year the teen has prepared turkey, corn pie, green-bean casserole, rice and gravy, sweet potato pie, pecan pie and cherry pie.
Berry, who began cooking when she was 8, will be cooking for eight. She first offered to prepare the holiday meal two years ago when others in the family were too tired to cook. Now, cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a new tradition in her family.
Thanksgiving was very different for her mother, Linda Legare Berry as she grew up. Her aunt, Helen Legare, says their dad, Tommy Legare, raised soybeans, which are harvested around Thanksgiving. The cutting takes place in the middle of the day when Thanksgiving dinner would be served. So their dinner was served in the soybean field, where her father would have the opportunity to take part.
"He would get off the combine and come and eat with us," Helen Legare says. "We usually had fried chicken, potato salad and it seems like mama used to do some baked beans. We had chocolate chip cookies for dessert. My mom (Ann Legare) made the best chocolate chip cookies. And sweet tea. That was what we drank. Sometimes we would tailgate on the back of the truck, but sometimes mama would just bring a blanket out. It was mama and daddy my sister and my brother."
The family resurrected the old tradition five years ago, so Sarah Berry could experience it, but a few things went wrong.
"It didn't evolve quite the way they planned it," Sarah Berry says. "All the men in the family stayed home and watched the football game. The wind started blowing and blew away all the paper plates. The table cloth started flapping in the breeze."
They had to eat Thanksgiving dinner in her grandmother's Ford Expedition, Sarah says. It's not an experience that Sarah wants to have again.